Bee-n quiet!

I knew I’d bee-n quiet on the blog front but I didn’t realise my last post was May! Sorry for the blog silence and here’s a quick update:

At the end of June, the bees had artificially and naturally swarmed to 13 hives. Some had laying queens and some didn’t. Some had queen cells and some we added queen cells. Once again, we went on holiday not knowing how many viable hives we would return to.

Well, nature is a wonderful thing, and our return from holiday saw 12 viable hives and 1 drone layer. That was fantastic news and they looked like they were building up nicely.  However Hope in Hive 5, always a trouble maker, looked good with a queen spotted mid-July but by the first week in August the hive was completely empty. The queen possibly never got mated so didn’t start laying but, I suspect, it was more likely they didn’t have enough stores because the weather had been so poor with lots of rain. On inspecting the other smaller hives, they looked like they didn’t have much stores in the brood boxes either and the supers were empty. I started to feed them syrup water which proved to be a good decision as they became stronger and busier during August.

Apart from feeding the smaller hives, I decided to mostly leave the bees alone in August. The swarming season was over, drones were being thrown out, there wasn’t a wasp threat, the weather wasn’t great making inspections difficult so I just let them get on with things. Those that had supers were feeling heavy and I was hopeful for a good final honey crop. We removed all the supers at the start of September and, although I got a reasonable honey crop, they had definitely eaten some of their own stores during the poor weather. I was so glad I’d left the supers on for them to eat and I can’t complain having jarred 87kg of honey this year!

Having removed the supers, it was now time to feed the bees to ensure they have enough stores in their brood boxes for winter. With 11 hives and only 6 feeding troughs it was tricky trying to get round them all. Most hives had at least one round of syrup water but it was becoming difficult so I swapped to bee fondant and they’ve been wolfing it down.

img_0822.jpg

Today the bees were flying in the warm Autumn sun so we did a quick pre-winter check to see how strong they looked. I’m delighted to say all the hives had between 7 and 9 full frames of bees except Rebecca in Hive 2 who had 6 frames of bees. This looks hopeful  for going into winter, although nothing is ever guaranteed! I’ve also got my new site which some of you will know about – official announcement to follow. We visited there today to finalise the arrangements and we’ll be looking to move 3 or 4 hives there in November – exciting times!!

Next steps will be to add mouse guards, puts on some insulation and administer varroa treatment. We’ve also finally got round to naming the newer hives:

Hive 7 – Joe

Hive 8 – Karen

Hive 9 – Poly (it’s in the only polystyrene hive I have)

Hive 11 – Princess Leia

Hive 12 – Daisy

Hive 13 – Rose

The numbers may change when some are moved to the new site but the names will remain the same!

Finally, there are still some jars of the last batch of honey available. It’s deliciously runny and golden from local flora.  Don’t forget to message me if you want a jar.

IMG_0814

Advertisements

Swarms, stings and steroids!

Quite a lot has happened since my last post – not all good!

After my last inspection, I returned the following day to take off some supers. Unfortunately, just as I had finished loading everything into the car I got stung on the forehead and I took an instant allergic reaction. I got home, took some Piriton but I was uncomfortable, coughing, wheezing, had a tight indigestion like feeling, hives all over my body, blocked nose and ear canals and the soles of my feet felt like they were on fire. We decided it was best to head straight to A&E in case my airway closed. A&E were fantastic. I was given steroids, an ECG and monitored closely for several hours. My airway did not close and I was released to spend the next 4 days with various weird swelling on my face. I have to admit, I got a bit of a fright!

IMG_9192

So, feeling slightly nervous, I returned last Thursday for a full inspection. Stuart decided I wasn’t to go on my own anymore so, as Mum was staying for a few days, she put on a bee suit, brought a chair and her mobile and was the emergency back-up!

On arriving we could see a huge amount of bees in the air – one of the hives was swarming in front of our eyes. What a sight! Thousands of bees circling the air and then coming together on a branch. The first branch broke under their weight and they had to re-cluster on another. Unfortunately, it was high up the tree so I wasn’t sure how I was going to get them down.

IMG_9202

Meanwhile, I inspected the other hives. They were all in varying stages of swarming or not swarming! I think the warm weather and the abundance of Oil Seed Rape has made it very challenging to try to prevent swarming. I’m just trying to monitor and do my best. Some looked Queenless with no eggs but the Queen may still be waiting to mate. It’s a waiting game and if they are Queenless then I can merge them with another hive later on and nothing is lost.

But, what to do about the large swarm up the tree? Stuart and I returned later in the evening to see what we could do and it had gone! However, there was quite a bit of activity in a bramble bush further down the road so we went to have a look and they were trying to cluster on an old log on the ground in the bramble bush. This was challenging as we couldn’t shake them into a box. We cut away the branches around the log and dumped those on branches into a nuc box. We then smoked the rest up into the air and placed the nuc, with a frame of honey, next to the log. As they came back down, they went into the nuc rather than on the log. We just stood back and watch as most of the bees went in. The advantage of using the nuc is that it’s a mini hive which can can hold frames and has an entrance so we just moved it back to the apiary and didn’t have to disturb them again – Hive 10!

No stings that day – so all good!

The following day, Friday, we returned to take some supers off and found another swarm in a tree. We got it into the catching box and left it there to allow them to settle. Unfortunately, when we returned later they’d absconded and were nowhere to be seen. That was disappointing!

On Saturday, I decided to do a quick perimeter check for swarms as the apiary is close to the EMF route and I didn’t want a potential problem on Marathon day. My sister and family were visiting so Claire accompanied me to see the apiary to be my backup. We didn’t find any swarms and the bees seemed calm. I was just getting into the car, having taken my vail off as there were no bees at the car, when a bee came from nowhere, flew past Claire at high speed and stung me on the forehead about 2mm from the last puncture mark – unbelievable (that wasn’t the word I used at the time)! I quickly took a double doze of Piriton and got home. I recognised straight away that this was completely different from the bad A&E reaction. It was just localised and the swelling was coming up straight away and I didn’t feel ill. I took this as good sign and applied ice. The swelling continued until it closed my left eye. Then my right eye began to close. The prospect of not being able to see was beginning to worry me and I was all for taking the dogs prescription steroids but Stuart decided I needed a doctor, and fast, before my right eye closed too. The wonderfully kind Doctor Cara came to the rescue and gave great help and advice in the nick of time. My right eye closed to a slit and then started to re-open. The left eye finally opened the following day and I’ve been slowly returning to normal with just a little swelling today. However, I’m taking all this as a positive. I didn’t have the ‘bad reaction’ so I haven’t built up an intolerance, which was what I was worried about. I’m also convinced that I must have still had some sting pheromones in my forehead because that bee came out of nowhere just to get me! I’ve set up a new protocol – I’m wearing a sweat band (like the 118 guys) over my forehead at all times while in my bee suit (I look a right plonker) and I don’t take the vail off until I’ve driven down the road a bit where I can pull over and take it off away from the apiary.

So today’s job was to move the bramble bush swarm from the nuc box into a full sized hive. Simple and quick until we noticed that two of the hives seemed busier than usual. Yip, they swarmed in front of our eyes. We watched them pile out and settle in a tree. They seemed to cluster in two distinct swarms. We’re not sure if both hives swarmed at the same time or whether one swarmed and they’ve just clustered in two groups. We caught them separately, one in the newly emptied nuc box (Hive 11) and the other in a catching box which was later put in a hastily constructed hive (Hive 12). We’ll soon know if there are two queens or not! My new protocol worked and I didn’t get stung!

This bee business is becoming a full time job and slightly out of control. I haven’t even done my inspection this week!

 

No Swarms today!

As of 1.30pm today, there were not swarms at the apiary – yeah.  I’ll check again tomorrow in case they did it from 1.31pm onwards!

Full inspection today. Sorry no photos as I was on my own, had to concentrate on queens and queen cells and it was very hot!

Caitlin in Hive 1 – No Queen seen, no eggs but larvae, and capped brood. Tore down all queen cells except two uncapped. That should be enough to raise a queen and hopefully prevent a secondary swarm. Honey ready in the super so I put on a clearing board.

Rebecca in Hive 2 – I wasn’t suppose to open this hive as I believed it had swarmed and was making a new queen but I wanted to check that there weren’t multiple queen cells which would cause secondary swarming. I did spot the new queen but no eggs so she’s possibly still unmated or not ready to lay. I tore down all the other queen cells which should prevent that queen from swarming as there are no queens to follow. Honey ready in the super so I put on a clearing board.

Sam in Hive 3 – Still no queen cells so not intending to swarm. But, I found eggs in the first super again above the queen excluder – puzzling! Either there are two queens or she’s getting through the excluder. Honey ready in the other super so I put on a clearing board.

Claire in Hive 4 – Blue queen seen, no queen cells. Artificial swarm seems to have worked. Honey ready in the super to I put on a clearing board.

Hope in Hive 5 – Did not open as they’re making a queen. No honey in super – it was light.

Susan in Hive 6 – Queen seen in lower brood box. Eggs in super – again puzzling. Either there are two queens or she’s getting though the queen excluder. I cut down all queen cells to prevent swarming. Honey in the other super so put on clearing board.

Hive 7, 8 & 9 – Didn’t open as they’re making queens. Entrances were busy. Hive 7 was making honey but it wasn’t ripe yet. Hive 8 was taking fondant. Didn’t look in Hive 9.

The hive’s seems be in various stages of queen rearing but most are taking advantage of the Oil Seed Rape flow. Hopefully I’ve taken the necessary measures to curb any more swarming but daily checks are still require.

Unfortunately I heard today that the large swarm I had given to Graeme last week had absconded. Sometimes the bees do this – they all just leave for some reason. That was disappointing and the hive was empty. However, I still hadn’t found a home for the swarm I caught yesterday. Graeme is on holiday, so Sandy and I visited his apiary and installed yesterday’s swarm into his hive. I added two frames of honey so hopefully that will entice them to stay.

Other than the swarm checks, hopefully that’s me done for another week.

 

 

And again!

Stuart said, “I’m really good at making Queens.”

I said, “I’m really bad at keeping bees!”

IMG_9178

They’re in a closed bee box in the back garden with some frames of honey to keep them going until the new hive arrives. Hopefully there won’t be another one tomorrow or I’ll have to consider crowdfunding!

Turn the volume up and have a listen to them in the box….

Checking for Swarms

Given it’s felt quite muggy, I decided to do a quick perimeter fence check of the apiary this afternoon for any swarms. I wasn’t far into my check when I came across a small swarm attached to the old fence post between the two newer barbed wire fences – handy location!

As it was on the fence post, I couldn’t shake them into the box so I attempted to brushed them in. The style of the post, the location and the attached fencing made this quite difficult and it became obvious that I hadn’t brushed the queen into the box as the bees were returning to the post almost as quickly as I was brushing them away. I had one last attempt at getting as many in the box as possible then put it on the ground with the lid wedged open. A secondary cluster was forming on another post so I was thinking I hadn’t got the queen when all of a sudden, I noticed her landing on the outside of the box. Unfortunately, a large gust of wind dislodged her and she flew off, a potentially disastrous situation as she could be lost. My heart sank but then, she fought the wind, approached the box and flew in the gap of the lid. That was very fortuatous! I left the box ajar and came home to think about what to do.

Unlike the last swarm, this one was quite small so I suspect it’s a secondary swarm. Meaning, the hive has swarmed already with the first queen and most of the worker bees and this is a second attempt with a new queen, possibly still unmated, and fewer worker bees. It’s not really worth offering it to another beekeeper as the quality won’t be as good as a prime swarm. I’ve hived it myself in the dregs of my remaining equipment and we’ll see how it gets on. They were fanning the entrance and doing orientation flights before I left. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

 

 

Supers, Swarms & Settling in!

I visited the bees on Tuesday with the view to finding out if they’d made any honey from the Oil Seed Rape close by. To my delight, Rebecca in Hive 2, Claire in Hive 4 and Hope in Hive 5 had a full super each. I put on clearing boards and intended to return the following day to remove them. I didn’t do a full inspection because I thought, what’s the point if I don’t have any more equipment. If they’re going to swarm then they’ll just have to get on with it. I did take a video tour of the apiary which I’ll post up separately when I can remember how the technology works! It was quite a chilled visit with time to sit and enjoy the bees!

Driving back yesterday to pick up the hopefully cleared supers, I noticed a lot of bee activity along the fence. Yip, one of the hives had swarmed! It was attached to the fence post but also to a low lying branch next to the fence. At this time of year, I always carry a bee box for such eventualities so I was able to brush the bees from the post into the box and then shake in the large cluster on the branch. I wedged my bee brush into the box to keep the lid slightly open and was delighted to see the bees on the outside of the box march in. I had definitely got the queen!

I then went and attended to the cleared supers, leaving the box open to allow any remaining bees from the swarm to realise the queen was in the box and follow suit. I got the supers off without too much bother and then picked up the box with the swarm and brought them home.

Now to find a home for the swarm. With all my equipment used up, I was going to have to give them away. I had mixed feeling about this. It’s a shame to loose such a big, vibrant colony but I just couldn’t keep them. Thinking positively, swarming is how bees naturally reproduce, so giving them away allows the gene pool to diversify and gives another beekeeper a chance to raise them. Fortunately, Graeme was keen to take them as one of his hives was queenless and dwindling. The bees stayed overnight in the back garden covered with a blanket and then it was off to hive them today.

The bees were find overnight and I took them to Graeme’s apiary this morning. It’s alway slight never racking transporting potentially 20,000-30,000 bees in a box, especially when they’re all not actually in the box – but it went fine. We tipped them into a new hive box and the existing queenless bees were merged with the icing sugar and newspaper technique. It was good to watch them settling in and doing orientation flights. I felt happy leaving them on such a nice apiary site and I’m sure they’ll do well.

I then returned to my apiary to put the empty supers back on the three hives I had removed them from. That was all I was going to do but my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know who had swarmed!

Caitlin in Hive 1 – the queen was seen and I tore down some queen cells.

Rebecca in Hive 2 – no queen seen, loads of queen cells and fewer bees. This is where I think the swarm has come from.

Sam in Hive 3  – no queen seen but no queen cells either so can’t have swarmed.

Claire in Hive 4 – blue queen seen, no queen cells, eggs seen. The artificial swarm must have worked.

Hope in Hive 5 – Didn’t open as they should still be raising a queen and I didn’t want to disturb.

Susan in Hive 6 – Queen seen, tore down some queen cells.

Hive 7 & 8 – Like Hope, I didn’t open as they should be raising a queen and I didn’t want to disturb them.

So, I’m pretty sure it was Rebecca in Hive 2 that swarmed. With having to tear down some queen cells in Caitlin in Hive 1 and Susan in Hive 6, they have the potential to swarm too. It’s been a pretty interesting few days if slightly intense!

The observant amounts you will realise that I’ve taken off supers.  Yes, I spent Wednesday afternoon and evening spinning honey. I’m assuming it’s Oil Seed Rape and it’s currently in the settling tank. I’m awaiting jars to be delivered and then I’ll do the usual FB post if anyone is interested. It tastes good!

Busy few days!

Although slightly on the cool side and a bit windy, I took the risk to inspect the hives on Bank Holiday Monday. Because of the weather, we hadn’t been in to the hives since 1st April, so an inspection was well over due. Unfortunately Stuart wasn’t free to help so I was on my own!

Caitlin in Hive 1, Rebecca in Hive 2 and Sam in Hive 3 were all fine with eggs, larvae, capped brood, drone cells, drones and no queen cells.

Claire in Hive 4 had a few charged queen cells but they weren’t capped yet.

Hope in Hive 5 was a mess.  Multiple charged queen cells over 4 different frames.

Susan in Hive 6, by the time I’d got to this hive I was quite tired having just gone through 3 double broods and 2 single broods. I was a bit confused because, although we’d spotted the queen in the lower brood box at the last inspection and put on a queen excluder, there were eggs in the first super. Either she’d got through the excluder, moved before we put the excluder on or there were 2 queens. And to top it all off, there might have been a queen cell in the bottom brood box but I wasn’t sure.

Because I was on my own, I didn’t manage to take any photos but I did end up in A&E! Having been stung 4 times on my right hand ring finger and once on the back of that hand, I could feel my hand swelling in my glove but forgot I had my ring on. By the time I got home the ring wouldn’t come off and my finger wouldn’t stop swelling. After a quick call to NHS24, I was told I’d need to go to A&E. Rather embarrassing, I turned up to a full waiting room and a 3 hour wait. When I tried to ‘un-book’ myself the very patient and lovely Nurse Practitioner understood that I knew what I was doing i.e. Piriton, cream etc and just needed the ring off, so she took me straight away and cut it off. My beautiful diamond ring isn’t so beautiful anymore but I’m grateful to the NHS for ‘saving my finger’!

Once all that was sorted out, it was action stations to try to prevent Claire in Hive 4 and Hope in Hive 5 from swarming. I made up equipment on Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon, on my own again, I tried to artificially swarm Hope in Hive 5.

As this hive had the most queen cells I thought it was the most urgent. Having followed the instructions and moved the old hive to the new site and put the new hive on the old site, I went though all the frames and couldn’t find the queen anywhere. With 3 capped queen cells and many uncapped, I think she’d gone! I probably should have searched for the queen the day before and worked out whether they’d already swarmed before doing the manoeuvre. However, having moved all the bloomin hives about, I decided to leave them that way. I don’t know if it was the correct thing to do.  Neither hive has a queen but they both have queen cells so they should follow the natural course of queen rearing.

On Wednesday morning I made up the very last of my equipment and, again on my own, tried to artificially swarm Claire in Hive 4. This time, I thought I’d see if the queen was actually there first. I found her on the 2nd frame which was fantastic but had to put her back because I hadn’t moved everything. I moved the old hive to the new site and the new hive to the old site then tried to find the queen again. She’d hidden! I had to go through both brood boxes twice before I found her again! With the queen safely in the new hive on the old site, I added a frame of stores, the queen excluder and the supers. I left the rest of the frames with the queen cells and bees in the old hive on the new site and closed it up. All the flying bees from there will return to the queen in the new hive on the old site and the old hive on the new site should raise a new queen. The swarm prevention went to plan, hopefully it will work.

The instructions on how to move hives:

I then decided to have a look through Susan in Hive 6 again.  I found the queen in the super next to the eggs. What to do? I could remove the queen excluder and let her have 2 brood and 1 super but that seemed excessive and also, they don’t tend to go back down to lay but move up so, she’d end up with less space even although it’s an enormous hive.  Instead, I trapped her in the super with a queen excluder top and bottom. I went through the 2 brood boxes and couldn’t find another queen so I’ve assumed there is just one queen. I then went back through the super, eventually found her, and moved the frame she was on back into the brood box. I put on a new queen excluder and the supers. I also didn’t see any queen cells so I must have been mistaken on Monday. So, hopefully that’s her back down in the brood boxes and the hive can carry on as normal.

I did get a few photos today.

 

However, by the time I’d opened them all on Monday, fiddled around with Hope in hive 5 on Tuesday the bees were really mad with me on Wednesday, greeting me at the car before I’d even done anything to Claire in hive 4 or Susan in hive 6. By the time I’d finished, I was covered in really angry bees but amazingly only got stung once. I had to abandon trying to get in the car because there were so many around the car and me and I had to walk away, down the road. On my second attempt I had to again, walk away but this time sit and wait 10 minutes.  On my third attempt I got in the car but there was still one determined bee trying to get in! I realised afterwards, that my suit had been stung on the Tuesday doing Hope’s artificial swarm so I was already covered in sting pheromones which would have alerted them to danger straight away.  They are funny and my suit has now been washed!

So lessons learnt:

  1. Check they haven’t swarmed before you do a swarm prevention manoeuvre.
  2. Don’t wear any rings while inspecting bees.
  3. Wash your suit between big manoeuvres to get rid of any sting pheromones.
  4. It’s better to do an inspection with Stuart because he’s good a lifting all the heavy stuff!

I’ve potentially got 2 new hives now.  I’ll call them hive 7 & 8 just now, names pending should they succeed. There is no more equipment so any other hive wanting to swarm will just have to get on with it. Next inspection should be next week weather dependant.

April, April, quite contrary!

My apologies for not keeping you up-to-date with the latest bee news!

We had our first opportunity to do a full inspection on 26th March when the weather was warm and sunny.  We were delighted to find Queens in all but one hive but that hive did have eggs and larvae so she must just have been hiding.   However, the hives were chock-a-block with stores, so full in fact, that there was no room for laying.  Extra room was required urgently to prevent early swarming from lack of space. We also removed the mouse guard as the warm weather would mean any furry friends would be happy in the fields.

Busy hive!IMG_8433

To recap, in the Autumn, we made the decision to overwinter 4 of the most active hives as brood and a half (brood and super) to ensure they had plenty of stores going into winter.  The expectation was that they’d eat all the stores and have free space by this time of year to start laying and we’d split the empty, used super from the brood box with a queen excluder in the Spring. Unfortunately, we fed them too much leaving no space and the only solution we could think of was to add an additional brood box.  Many beekeepers work on double brood (2 brood boxes) rather than single brood, but it’s typically seen as harder work, has a higher chance of damaging the queen and produces less honey.  Note to self – don’t feed so much next year!

The other two smaller hives were wintered with just the brood box so they will remain as single broods.  Maybe an interesting experiment to compare and contrast.

Our opportunity to put the double brood box plan into action came on 1st April when again, the weather was warm and sunny.  Fortunately, we found Queens in 3 out of the 4 hives so we absolutely knew the Queen was down in the existing brood box when we added the additional brood box. The queen excluder was then added but then the dilemma, what to do with the full super? We decided to put the full super above the queen excluder in the hope that they’d move the stores down into the empty brood box.  We then added an empty super above to cope with the Oil Seed Rape flow.  We don’t know if this will work, time will tell.

Equipment day!IMG_8431

The hive we didn’t find the Queen, we smoked heavily through the super which will probably have forced her down in the brood box.  We’ll need to carefully inspect the supers next time, just in case she’s up there, but we’re confident she’ll be in the brood box.

Hive with double brood and double super.IMG_8434

Having found the queens in the two single brood hives, we added the queen excluders and a super each to them.  The easy single brood box method!

Unfortunately, that was the last of the sunny weather.  Since then, it’s been FREEZING!  The poor bees must be so confused.  I just hope that, having thought the weather was warming up, we haven’t chilled them by giving them more space and separating their food stores.

I stopped by today to have a look. It was only 9 degrees so way to cold for an inspection but I looked in the polycarbonate crown board and all but one hive had bees in the upper super.  All the hives had flying bees and all had bright yellow pollen going in, possibly from the Oil Seed Rape.  I can only hope the hot weather didn’t induce early swarming at the beginning of April and that the cold snap hasn’t chilled them.  The next inspection will be when it’s warm again – whenever that will be??

Today’s busy bees covered in pollen and guarding the entrance.

Pollen going in!

It was lovely to see that every hive was active today. Lots of Pollen was going in which means the queen is laying and the brood needs protein – an encouraging sign.  I added extra fondant because April can be a difficult month but I think they’re probably fine and I should really be making plans to remove the mouse guards and decide when to add the queen excluders.  Exciting times are coming!IMG_8414